THE CLASH OF SWORDS
The two sat fronting one another on their horses. Inglis was the older and more firmly set man. But Wat of Lochinvar was slender and lithe as a bow that has not been often bent and quivers to the straight. It was a curious sight to see them passaging with little airs and graces, like fighting cocks matched in a pit.
The soldiers stood indifferently around. A pair of dragoons patrolled, turning and crossing as if on parade, within earshot of the quarrel of their officers. It was the first time I had ever seen what discipline meant. And in a moment I learned why they had broken us at Bothwell and Rullion Green. For I have heard my brother Sandy say that at any time in the Covenanting host, had three drawn together and spoken like men that are hot in questioning, the whole army would have run from their posts to hear and to take part in the controversy. But all the while these dragoons kept their noses pointing in the straight of their necks, and fronted and wheeled like machines. It was, in fact, none of their business if their officers cut each others' throats. But they knew that one John Graham would assuredly make it his business if they omitted their military service.
‘Cornet Inglis,’ said Lochinvar, doffing lightly his feathered hat that had the King's colours in it, ‘hearken ye well. This is my cousin Will of Earlstoun, who took no part with his kin in the late rebellion, as I took no part with mine, but instead abode at home in peace. I require you to let him go upon his errand. I myself will be answerable for him to Colonel Graham of Claverhouse. After that we can arrange our little matter as to favour and its causes.’
There was a keen leaping light in my cousin Wat's blue eyes, the light that I afterwards grew to know as the delight of battle. He was waxing coldly angry. For me I grow dourly silent as I become angered. My brother Sandy grows red and hot, but Wullcat Wat was of those more dangerous men to whom deadly anger, when it comes, at once quickens the pulses and stills the nerves.
‘Think not I am afraid of a traitor's son, or of any of the name of Lochinvar,’ quoth Inglis, who was indeed no coward when once he had taken up a quarrel; ‘after all, ye are all no better than a bow-o'-meal-Gordon!’
It was the gage of battle. After that there was no more to be said. To call a man of our name ‘a-bow-o'-meal-Gordon’ is equal to saying that he has no right to the name he bears. For it is said that a certain Lochinvar, wanting retainers to ride at his back, offered a snug holding and so many bolls of meal yearly to any lusty youth who would marry on his land, take his name, and set himself like a worthy sworder to breed well-boned loons to carry in their turns the leathern jack.
At the taunt, swift as flame Wat of Lochinvar rode nearer to his enemy on his quick-turning well-mouthed horse, and drawing the leather gauntlet through his fingers till the fingers were striped narrow like whip lashes, he struck Inglis with it upon the cheek.
‘My father's head,’ he cried, ‘may be on the Netherbow. He had his way of thinking and died for it. I have mine and may die for it in my time. But in the meantime Lochinvar's son is not to be flouted by the son of a man who cried with all parties and hunted with none.’
Two swords flashed into the air together, the relieved scabbards jingling back against the horses' sides. The basket hilt of that of Cornet Inglis had the cavalry tassel swinging to it, while the crossbar and simple Italian guard of Wat Gordon's lighter weapon seemed as if it must instantly be beaten down by the starker weapon of the dragoon. But as they wheeled their horses on guard with a touch of the bridle hand, I saw John Scarlet, Wat's master of fence, flash a look at his scholar's guard-sword. Wat used an old-fashioned shearing-sword, an ancient blade which, with various hilt devices, many a Gordon of Lochinvar had carried when he ruffled it in court and hall. I caught John Scarlet's look of satisfaction, and judged that he anticipated no danger to one whom he had trained, from a fighter at haphazard like Cornet Peter Inglis. But yet the dragoon was no tyro, for he had proved himself in many a hard-stricken fray.
So without a word they fell to it. And, by my faith, it made a strange picture on the grassy track which wound itself through these wilds, to see the glossy black of Wat Gordon's charger front the heavier weight of the King's man's grey.
At the first crossing of the swords, the style of the two men was made evident. That of Inglis was the simpler. He fought most like a practical soldier, with the single purpose of making his adversary feel the edge of his weapon; while Wat, lighter and lither, had all the parade and pomp of the schools.
Lochinvar depended on a low tierce guard with a sloping point, and reined his horse near, that his enemy might be prevented from closing with him on his left, or side of disadvantage. The dragoon used the simpler hanging guard and pressed upon his adversary with plain dour weight of steel.
At the first clash of the iron the horses heaved their heads, and down from the hillside above there came a faint crying as of shepherds to their flocks. But the combatants were too intent to take notice. John Scarlet reined his horse at the side, his head a little low set between his shoulders, and his eyes following every thrust and parry with a glance like a rapier.
For the first five minutes Inglis tried all his powers of battering upon Wat Gordon's lighter guard, his heavy cavalry sword beating and disengaging with the fellest intent. He fought with a still and lip-biting fury. He struck to kill, hammering with strong threshing blows; Wat, more like a duellist of the schools—rather, as it seemed, to show his mastery of the weapon. But nevertheless the thin supple blade of the young laird followed every beat and lunge of the heavier iron with speed and certainty. Each moment it seemed as if Wat must certainly be cut down. But his black obeyed the rein at the moment of danger, and his sword twisted round that of his adversary as an adder winds itself about a stick.
More and more angry grew the dragoon, and a grim smile sat intent and watchful on the face of John Scarlet. But he spoke never a word, and the red sentries paced placidly to and fro along the burnside of Garryhorn. More and more wildly Cornet Inglis struck, urging his horse forward to force Lochinvar's black down the hill. But featly and gracefully the lad wheeled and turned, keeping ever his hand in tierce and his blade across his body, slipping and parrying with the utmost calm and ease.
‘Click, click!’ came the noise of the clashing sword-blades, flickering so swiftly that the eye could not follow them. In time Lochinvar found out his opponent's disadvantage, which was in the slower movement of his horse, but to this Inglis responded like a man. He kept his beast turning about within his own length, so that come where he would Wat had no advantage. Yet gradually and surely the dragoon was being tired out. From attacking he fell to guarding, and at last even his parry grew lifeless and feeble. Wat, on the other hand, kept his enemy's blade constantly engaged. He struck with certainty and parried with a light hammering movement that was pretty to watch, even to one who had no skill of the weapon.
At last, wearied with continual check, Inglis leaned too far over his horse's head in a fierce thrust. The beast slipped with the sudden weight, and the dragoon's steel cap went nearly to his charger's neck.
In a moment, seeing his disadvantage, Inglis attempted to recover; but Wat's lighter weapon slid under his guard as he threw his sword hand involuntarily up. It pierced his shoulder, and a darker red followed the steel upon his horseman's coat, as Wat withdrew his blade to be ready for the return. But of this there was no need, for Inglis instantly dropped his hand to his side and another sword suddenly struck up that of Wat Gordon, as the dragoon's heavy weapon clattered upon the stones.